Africa Speaks: Magic and Belief 2

Landscape with herd of cattle, road to Filingue, Niger, 1992

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Mahamadou Warou 2/3/92

When I was young, I used to go outside the village, playing games with the other boys of my age. My mother warned me to come back home before sunset to avoid being caught by witches. In our village people thought that evil spirits wandered at dusk and children should not be allowed outside at that time.

One evening I forgot my mother's warning and I followed my playmates until sunset. When I decided to go home it was very dark. I ran toward our compound which was in the south end of the village.

On my way I met an old woman dressed in black. She called my name and asked me how was my mother. I didn't recognize her because she had covered her face with a shawl. She spoke to me very kindly and she gave me three eggs. As I was fond of eggs, I took them and thanked her cheerfully.

When I got home I hid behind my mother's hut and ate the eggs. I didn't want to share them with my brother. After that I ran into my mother's hut, where she was anxiously waiting for my arrival. She asked me if I had met someone in the darkness. I said "no" because I didn't want her to know about the eggs.

Late that night I had a nightmare. I saw an old and ugly woman, as black as soot. She was naked and her tongue was like a snake. She wanted to swallow me. I cried loudly, jumped out of my bed and ran away toward the bush. My father caught me and brought me back home.

From time to time the woman appeared again and I cried, and tried to show her to my parents. They couldn't see anything. Everybody in the family gathered around me till morning. My grandmother told my father to take me to the medicine man in a neighboring village. She knew many things about such matters because of her long experience of life in the village.

Early in the morning my father took me on his horse to the famous medicine man called Toulou. He had a lot of knowledge about witchcraft and black magic. When Toulou saw me he smiled and told my father that I was very lucky. According to him, I should have died because I had been attacked by a powerful witch.

He took a pot of milk and poured some medicine in it. He covered it with a white cloth and whispered strange words several times. I drank the milk, and I vomited everything. Then I slept for a long time in his Toulou's dark hut.

When I woke up my father was very angry with me. "Why did you eat those eggs?" he shouted. He tried to slap me, but Toulou prevented him from doing it. "Don't lose your wits, a child is a child," he said. I was surprised because I didn't understand how that diviner had found that I had eaten some eggs cooked by a witch.

He threw a charm in my mouth and told me to chew it and swallow my saliva three times. Then I was given a talisman to tie to my waist. He told my father that my life was out of danger, but once back home a sacrifice of a he-goat was necessary to chase the evil spirits forever.

After that sacrifice I felt better and I never saw the woman again at night. Since that day I have refused to accept gifts from unknown people. Life is sometimes full of mysteries.

Copyright © 1998 Mahamadou Warou


Street scene, Tillabery, Niger, 1992


Oumarou Issa 3/8/92

It is very common in my village, Gangara, for wizards to have troubles. I can remember October 27, 1985. There was a man in our neighbor's family who was suffering from a disease which no doctor could identify. The troubles had started to happen to him only some hours earlier.

All kinds of medication were used but none of them had any positive effect. A family member hurried to the nearest sorcerer, and, as he lived far away, it took the messenger a whole day's journey to reach him.

Late in the afternoon of the following day, the horseman was back with the person he had been sent to get. The sorcerer had scarcely rested when the patient was brought to him. He performed magic for some twenty minutes then announced that it was a wizard named Lilo who was trying to kill the sick man by using his witchcraft power.

Soon after that declaration, a mob of the patient's relatives armed with cudgels and spears and machetes rushed to the accused evildoer. When they arrived in Lilo's house, which was near by, he was not even given the opportunity to speak. One of the mob struck Lilo with his cane, and then the others did the same.

As Lilo had many adult sons, they also armed themselves with arrows and suddenly a real fight broke out. In a few minutes, the number of fighters on both sides increased. It was a real bloodbath, because in half an hour more than twenty corpses were lying on the ground and many others on both sides were seriously injured.

That event involved most of the families of my village, because everyone in the two villages was distantly related. The two villages, ours and Lilo's, had been founded by two of our ancestors, who were never friends.

The same day that event was reported to the authorities of the local government and a hundred armed policemen were immediately sent there to inquire about the fight.

Copyright © 1998 Oumarou Issa


Sirba river, near Namaro, Niger, 1992

At a Bori

Mrs. Ousmane Zeinou 1/27/92

When I was a little girl in primary school, I attended a ceremony in which I felt like an outsider.

A little friend of mine who was ten years old fell ill. For some weeks she couldn't go to school. First we thought that she had a fever, but when we visited her we saw that it was more serious.

We children couldn't speak to her for she was surrounded by "big" people. She was sitting in a dark hut with three old women and a man. All of them were wearing strange clothes: white, black, and red boubous.

In a corner a violinist was playing strange music. It was strange for us because he hadn't heard it anywhere else before. The man was talking, or singing, anyway I didn't understand what it was.

After a while, a woman took our friend's hand and began dancing. She was the girls' teacher at the school. When our friend could not follow the speed of the dance, the old woman slapped her. We cried, but our friend didn't do anything to show that she had felt the slap. We couldn't understand what was happening.

Then she fell down, and we thought that she was worn out from the dance. And then at that moment something even stranger happened. She was speaking a language we couldn't catch, but which an old woman was translating. She talked about a devil called "Dango" was demanding a red goat and red clothes to pay for her recovery.

Later on I learned that the language she spoke was a broken English. It was astonishing because at that time she had not yet gone to college or to an English speaking country.

The following day after the ceremony she was all right and went to school. She told the teacher not to hit her on the head from then on. The teacher laughed at her, and we laughed too. That little girl had what we call here "Bori" or spirit possession.

Copyright © 1998 Mrs. Ousmane Zeidou

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